The management of safety has undergone a number of radical changes in the past 100 years. The most important paradigm shifts occurred in through the work of Heinrich, then the advent of the safety systems era, and of late, the behavioral safety approaches that became popular around the world. All of these 'approaches' to safety each left an indelible mark on the way we targeted safety improvements, what interventions were deployed and how those were measured. It also resulted in a number of strongly held "myths" of safety management, each discussed, analyzed and challenged in this paper.
The paper also analyzes the effects of some of these approaches and points to a complex problem of the increased levels regulation and of perceived protection that workers enjoy in the work place - leading to what is commonly known as 'complacency'.
A second problem of modern safety management is a consequence of the superficial treatment of accidents through procedures and rules changes, leading to a phenomenon called accident migration.
The most recent approach to safety is generally known as behavior-based safety and flowed from the human sciences and quality management era. This approach had a dramatic impact on the way safety was managed around the world, but is still falling short on a number of key aspects, most notably the area of risk cognition and risk compensation. Many workplace accidents occur simply because the risk was unidentified, underestimated, not understood or ignored.
The paper proposes a new direction for safety, called risk competency safety, which is based on cognitive psychology, to combat this consequence of modern protection.
Managing safety is a young science, but an old practice. Legend has it that in 1870 BC King Hammurabi used a simple but extremely effective safety system - if a worker lost a limb due to the overseer's negligence, the overseer's limb would be removed to match the worker's loss.
If only it was that simple… The phenomenon of an 'accident' was treated almost with disdain by the management practitioners of the industrial age. We slapped simplistic definitions on them, such as 'unplanned, unexpected events'. We controlled them as a 'loss' through management models developed in the 1960's that are barely credible today. The central drive in safety has remained much the same for the last 90 years, traditionally known as the three E's of safety: Engineering (the hazard out), Education (of workers in the skills, rules and procedures) and Enforcement (policing for compliance and applying discipline when not). These approaches still permeate every aspect of safety: road safety, occupational safety, fleet safety, etc and the so called 'modern' behavioral safety approach still functions well within the compliance models of safety.